If you’re a keen DIY woodworker – or maybe even a pro – you might be wondering about which type of plywood would be the best option for building cabinets since different thicknesses of plywood have their associated advantages and disadvantages.
So to help you understand the difference between using a thicker or thinner type of plywood, in this post, we look at the question of ½” vs ¾” plywood for cabinets along with some of the other considerations to bear in mind while planning your build.
What is plywood?
Before we talk about which thickness of plywood to use for making cabinets, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves what plywood is to give ourselves a better understanding of the material we’re dealing with.
Plywood is a composite material that’s made by taking thin sheets of wood and gluing them together. Each layer is referred to as a “ply”, hence the name, and with each layer, the grain of the wood is rotated to increase the overall strength.
Using plywood for things like cabinets is much cheaper than using natural wood, and it’s also more environmentally friendly since it’s more sustainable. It’s usually made from a variety of softwoods, but hardwood versions also exist for certain applications.
In the hardware store, you’ll find plywood being sold by thickness. Most people use either ¾” plywood or ½” plywood, but other thickness also exists, such as ¼” plywood – which can be used for certain parts of cabinet builds too, as we will see later in this post.
But why is the thickness of the plywood you choose to build your cabinet important? Let’s look at this now.
Why is plywood thickness important?
When building a cabinet, there are several factors that need to be considered – like what the cabinet is for, how big it is and how much weight it needs to be able to carry.
This means the choice of material for one cabinet might not be the right choice for another – and the thickness of the plywood you use is a key variable for several reasons. Here are some of the things you need to think about when choosing.
One of the most important advantages ¾” plywood has over ½” plywood is that is stronger and more durable. The extra quarter of an inch means a cabinet made of ¾” plywood is likely to last longer, and this would be the best option for a cabinet that is likely to see a lot of use.
If the weight-bearing sections of a cabinet are constructed using ¾” plywood, this will give the cabinet more weight-bearing capacity.
When considering this aspect, it’s also important to consider whether a particular cabinet is going to be vertical (that is, narrower and taller) or horizontal (meaning a wider and shorter cabinet).
This is because the shape of the cabinet will affect its weight-bearing capacity, which may also determine which type of plywood is best suited for making it.
A cabinet constructed of ¾” plywood will weigh more than a cabinet that’s made of ½” plywood, so if you need a lighter cabinet, ½” plywood gives you an advantage.
¾” plywood costs more than ½” plywood per sheet, so if you need to save money, choosing ½” plywood may allow you to save a few dollars – or depending on the size of your project, maybe even more.
Hinges, screws and nails
If you want to use European-style hinges, ¾” plywood is better suited since there is more wood to attach them to.
At the same time, ¾” plywood is more forgiving for less experienced woodworkers since if you slightly misplace a screw or a nail, the extra thickness of the wood means the screw or nail is less likely to stick out from the side of the wood.
What’s the consensus thinking on 1/2 vs 3/4 inch Plywood for Cabinets?
So having looked at how the thickness of the plywood can affect the design and performance of a cabinet, now let’s look at which the best option is.
Generally speaking, most woodworkers would choose ¾” plywood over ½” plywood for many of the reasons mentioned above.
Choosing ¾” plywood will give you a sturdier, more robust cabinet that is likely to last longer, and it will also be able to carry more weight.
Of course, if you need your cabinet to be light, using ½” plywood to make it could be an option, but in most cases, the weight carrying capacity of a cabinet is usually more important than how much it weighs.
There is an argument that you can save money by using ½” plywood, at least for some parts of the cabinet, but for small-scale projects, the difference would be negligible.
For example, if the cabinet you were making only needed the amount of wood that could be taken from one 4’x8’ sheet of plywood, you would save very little money by choosing ½” over ¾” plywood, so you might as well opt for the thicker stronger version.
However, if you were working on a larger project – either making a bigger cabinet or working on multiple cabinets – you could consider buying some ½” plywood and some ¾” plywood and combining them to save money.
So for these reasons, if you prefer to follow the crowd, most people would suggest that ¾” plywood is usually the better choice.
Are there any dissenting views on 1/2 vs 3/4 inch Plywood for Cabinets?
Having said all this, there are still those who would suggest that using ½” plywood to build cabinets is a good idea.
If you don’t need a particularly robust cabinet, using ½” plywood can work well. This is especially true of vertical cabinets as opposed to more horizontal ones since it is easier for vertical cabinets to hold more weight.
It’s true that you can save a few dollars by building a cabinet entirely from ½” plywood, and if you need to make it stronger, you can do things like adding braces.
As a result, you shouldn’t dismiss using ½” plywood out of hand but rather should consider your project carefully and think about whether ½” plywood might be sufficient.
Plywood is sold in sheets measuring 4’x8’, but it is also sold in various grades according to the quality of the two faces.
The front is graded from A to D, with A being the highest quality, and the back is graded from 1 to 4, with 1 representing the highest quality.
This means that when choosing your plywood, as well as thinking about the thickness, you should also think about which part of the cabinet you are going to use it for.
Usually, the doors of cabinets are made of natural wood rather than plywood, but for the sides, you will want a high-grade plywood surface because it will be visible once the cabinet is complete.
Similarly, for the inside, you might also want a high-grade surface – although maybe not top grade – while for the section that will be placed against the wall, the lowest grade of plywood would be suitable.
1/2 vs 3/4 inch Plywood for Cabinets – what’s the best option?
As we’ve seen, the consensus is that ¾” is best but that ½” can work well too.
Perhaps the best option of all is to mix and match according to your needs.
This means for the parts of the cabinet that need to be sturdiest, you should opt for ¾” plywood. This would include things like the base and the shelves.
However, for other parts, such as the sides as well as the sides and backs of drawers, ½” plywood could be just as good.
For some parts, such as the bottoms of drawers or the back of the cabinet, you could even use ¼” plywood since very thin wood is all you would need for those parts.
At the same time, you also need to think about which parts will be visible and which parts won’t and then choose the grade accordingly.
However, being able to work like this would depend largely on the volumes of plywood you buy and use and what you use it for.
If you are only building one small cabinet, the most sensible thing would be to build the whole thing from ¾” plywood since the amount you would save by buying one sheet of ½” plywood instead would be very small.
However, if you buy lots of plywood for lots of different projects, it might be a more feasible solution to mix and match as we suggest.
A mix of thicknesses is best
As we’ve seen, although many people would suggest that simply opting for ¾” plywood is the best option for building cabinets due to the extra durability and other advantages it gives you, the answer is not quite as simple as just that.
It can be possible to construct cabinets from ½” plywood, and they can be perfectly strong and durable too, depending on their shape, size and intended use.
However, probably the best option is to use a mix of different thicknesses and grades depending on which part of the cabinet the plywood is being used for.